The dryness in southern Africa, which “raises serious concerns” over food security, looks poised to continue, the United Nations warned, even as prices of white maize remained close to record highs.
The UN food agency, the Food and Agriculture Organization, said that farm-support efforts, such as providing livestock feed, were “already being scaled up” in the face of dryness which has left South Africa’s five key cereals-producing provinces “declared disaster drought areas”.
And the dry weather – blamed on the El Nino weather pattern which has a history of causing “negative shocks” to crop production in South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe in particular – looks poised to continue.
“Weather forecasts indicate a higher probability of a continuation of below-normal rains between December and March across most countries, corresponding to the key development periods of cereal crops,” the FAO said.
“The unfavourable rainfall forecast is further compounded by increased expectations of above-average temperatures, which could further retard crop development, particularly during the emergence phase (in the next weeks), adversely affecting yields and harvests.”
The comments came as yellow maize futures for December touched 3,700 rand a tonne in Johannesburg, their highest for a spot contract for the feed grain since March last year, before easing to close at 3,690 rand a tonne, a gain of 1.1% on the day.
Futures in white maize – which as a food staple, and being less freely available on the international market, is seen as particularly sensitive – ended down 1.9% at 4,125 rand a tonne, but stayed close to the all-time high of 4,250 a tonne set on Monday.
Yellow maize prices are up 72% so far this year, and white maize futures up 94%.
The closes came ahead of data from the official Sagis grains bureau showing a decline to 4.71m tonnes in South African maize stocks as of the end of November, from 5.41m tonnes a month before, a little below the previous estimate of 5.42m tonnes.
While the most recent gains in maize prices have been spurred in part by weakness in the rand, which lifts the value in local terms of dollar-denominated assets, the South African currency has regained some ground from the record low of 16.0235 rand to $1 set last week.
The rand on Tuesday stood at 15.1275 to $1.
The FAO said that the dry weather conditions in southern Africa, of which South Africa is the most important grains producer, had increased “the possibility of a second consecutive reduced cereal output” year, after a dryness-reduced harvest last time too.
“In 2015, maize production, accounting for nearly 80% of the [region’s] total cereal output, declined by 27% on account of adverse weather,” the agency said.
The downturn has meant that “food security conditions are already stressed” across the region, with an estimated 6.3m people deemed vulnerable, nearly double the total of 3.2m last year.
“The presence of a strong El Niсo episode in 2015-16 raises serious concerns regarding the impact on food insecurity,” the organisation said.
“A second consecutive reduced cereal harvest could acutely impact on the food security situation in 2016.”
Separately, in South Africa, Jannie de Villiers, chief executive of industry group Grain SA, warned of a “big shortage” of white maize ahead for the country.
“We have finished planting in the east, the rain is patchy, the heat is tremendous and not good for the crop in the west that produce most of our white maize,” he told SABC.
“I don’t think farmers planted 20% of what they intended.”
Recent imports are believed to have guaranteed supplies at least until April, Grain SA told Agrimoney.com earlier this month.
(Source – http://www.agrimoney.com/news/southern-africa-dryness-raises-serious-concerns-un-warns–9136.html)